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The first holiday I went on with my husband to be, back in 2006 took us to the island of Sardinia.
Filled with excitement and nerves we arrived onto the beautiful island into beautiful sunshine, on my birthday in October.
Going slightly out of season is something I would recommend if you are not a fan of the heat or the sun.
We stayed just a walk away from Alghero and fell in love with the old town immediately, spending our first full day wondering the streets and the harbour with an endless supply of delicious gelati.
Car hire is also to be recommended to take full advantage of the whole stunning island. The small bay of Stintino is our secret paradise.
This is a great holiday for couples, young and old. It's a relaxing and beautiful place, full of romance.
All inclusive holidays are a waste, trying the local cuisine is a must, with delicacies, such as the dessert pasta filled with cheese and honey. Local vineyard Sella y Mosca also make a delicious range of wines - take a spare suitcase!
My advice: go there before it is too late - the resorts are growing.
In that slouched sort of manner often adopted by smokers, or teenagers, my Sardinian friend and I sit on our haunches on the steps of a stone patio, outside a little Sardinian house. My friends grandmother lived in it, once. She also died here, many years ago, in the room overlooking the orange trees. This week, however, the little house is ours. Cicadas hum incessantly, creating a background buzz like left-on stereo speakers. Easing myself back, I stretch out my legs in the October sunshine, which is dappled between the foliage of Frangipanis.
Further along the road, there are the occasional shouts of children, the echoing bounce of a football, the sudden yapping of small dogs, and every few minutes, the unhealthy roar of a small car, tearing recklessly along the narrow street. Otherwise, there is just a vague, humid silence, and the humming of those cicadas. A row of houses, or villas, lines each side of the street in a charming sort of a jumble, each house seemingly constructed in disconnected bursts and consequently mismatched, like a childs Lego empire. Many of these villas are crowned with open, unfinished second stories, and roofs are almost routinely absent, as in many parts of Greece. Im unsure whether this is due to an evasion of local taxes, or more prosaically, to a sort of generalised apathy, and it seems somehow indelicate to ask. However, once inside, the houses are beautifully cool, with high ceilings and marbled floors throughout, as pink and mottled as pressed salami.
PULA: There is a better-known Pula in Europe, a seaside resort in Croatia, at the south- eastern end of the Istrian peninsula. This Croatian Pula, I believe, is renowned for its beautiful beaches and roman ruins, which include an impressive and largely intact Amphitheatre. It strikes me as interesting, that the two Pulas should have these things in common. The Pula I am visiting, however, is set not on the Adriatic, but rather, near the southernmost tip of Sardinia, smack bang in the centre of the Med. Sadly, the small Amphitheatre here now rests in picturesque ruins.
ARRIVAL: En route to Cagliari, Sardinias ancient capital, the plane had hovered above the islands spectacular western coastline, dipped slightly inland, and then, upon landing, had seemed almost to skim the surface of the sea before coming safely to rest on Sardinian ground. I felt a vague (and no doubt unwarranted) sense of narrowly averted disaster. The airport itself is very modern, with a new-car sort of smell, blamelessly bedecked in smoky stainless steel with grey marble in all directions. Outside, there is that inevitable row of Mediterranean palms, and a number of tall eucalypts to the side. In the heat, it almost smells like Australia.
Heading south, we drive towards Pula, located on the coast about 40km to the west of Cagliari. The views, if not exactly salubrious, are certainly interesting. A large and rather ugly industrial quarter straddles the turquoise coastline. Further along, pale pink flamingos wade daintily in wide lagoons, against the backdrop of enormous oil refineries, forever churning black smoke into the clear Mediterranean sky. Fat pipes jut far out to sea. Here and there are the salt-flats, glistening in the sunshine. The roads are narrow, the traffic fast and frenetic, and the detritus of sun-bleached drink cans, tattered old plastic bags and general rubbish lies scattered at the sides of the roads.
As the industrial outskirts begin to recede, tapering out into more non-descript swampland, and the marshes of Stagno di Santa Gilla, I become suddenly aware of the densely forested mountains, which rise up sharply beyond the lagoons on the right hand side. These form a striking range, extending along the horizon as far as the eye can see. Finally, we reach the town of Pula, which occupies a picturesque position, neatly wedged between the mountains and the tranquil seas of the Bay of Cagliari.
Originally founded by the Phoenicians, and later built over by the Carthaginian and Roman empires in turn, Pula is set on a peaceful promontory, overlooked by a 16th Century Spanish watchtower.
PEOPLE: Although small, the town is bustling. The doors of the Tourism Office, however, remain firmly closed. I suspect it probably shut up shop at least a month ago, back in September, around the time that all the holidaymakers stopped coming. Now, the only tourist I encounter, apart from a dour busload of Germans deposited outside the Museum of Antiquities, is a florid Liverpudlian, whom I spot grumbling over the selection at the Newspaper stand on the town square, before finally settling upon a 5- day old edition of the Mail on Sunday. Old news. In Sardinia, however, old news is as good as new, and even the intrigues of earlier generations seem to retain a potent relevance for their descendants. And as to the lack of foreigners, well, as far as my Sardinian friend is concerned, they are in fact everywhere.
Did you see him? she mutters at me, after we pass an innocuous looking man on the road to Nora. I glance back, bemused. Hes no Sard! she tells me, I can tell at once. Its very obvious hes from the mainland. This is no isolated incident, for she points the foreigners out constantly. It almost seems like a sport. It reminds me a little of a game my brothers and I used to play in the back of the family saloon during long and boring car-trips, punch-buggy, a violent and pointless exercise which involved punching each other whenever we spotted a VW beetle. Later, as we idle outside a café on the square, eating Gelato, my SF does it again. Look, the two over there, she hisses at me, staring pointedly at a couple of stylish looking girls. Mainlanders! The one with the big nose was going out with X (an important footballer). I recalled X having been mentioned earlier when wed passed his holiday house, an uncommonly ostentatious neo-Grecian affair smothered in the scarlet tendrils of an established Bougainvillia. Whilst unsettling, this identification of outsiders is almost entirely without malice, even in the case of the Chinaman who runs the local florist, and who, despite having lived in the town for more than 20 years and being well loved by everyone, is commonly referred to as Chong Ching. Of course, the simplest and easiest way to spot an outsider, as my friend points out, is to do with height. All true Sardinians she chuckles, are midget!
Admittedly, theres some truth in this assertion. The native Sardinians are a very small people indeed, almost Lilliputian in stature, with most of them, men and women alike, hovering at or below the 5 ft mark. Frankly, at 5ft 5, Ive never felt quite so statuesque in all my life. The Sardinian temperament, on the other hand, is far from diminutive.
In Sardinia, even the most laconic and easy-going of conversations can quickly deteriorate into what, to the untrained eye, can seem like a very serious argument indeed. Voices are raised to the accompaniment of extravagant gesticulations and flailing arms.
This can prove both alarming and entertaining to watch. The Sardinian language, especially when mixed (as it commonly is) with mainland Italian, comes out in sharp staccato bursts, like verbal machine gun fire. Even innocuous discussions can seem comically theatrical. I of course, who understood not a word, am forced to rely upon the translations of my friend. Disregarding any qualms I may have about becoming a prize irritant, I frequently interrupt conversations to ask what has been said. Invariably, this proves well worthwhile, and my bad manners are ignored if not forgiven. In Sardinia, good nature generally prevails.
My pregnancy provokes a good deal of comment. Ah! The future of Italy! croaks a little man, perched on his bar stool like a parrot on a stand, when he sees me walk in to his cafe. Shes not Italian! rebuts my SF, dryly. Oh, but her husband is? the little man persists, before straining the dregs of his espresso through a dense grey moustache. Again no. Oh well, he says, with a grin, and turns away. Complete strangers, and not all of them female, approach to stroke my engorged belly. Many guess knowledgeably at the babys sex, and not one of them (somewhat unnervingly) guesses incorrectly.
CULTURE: DH Lawrence once described Sardinia as an island outside the circuit of civilisation. There is still a gentle sense, in Pula at least, of being at an isolated outpost, or even, occasionally, of having stepped back in time. There is one Internet bar in the town, which opened a few years ago. Apparently, aside from passing tourists, it was only the Australian girl who ever really used it. The locals themselves seem to regard it with a sort of bemused suspicion. Presumably by virtue of being one myself, I am told a great deal about this mysterious Australian girl, who, by all accounts, descended upon the town a few years ago, secured herself a bar job, despite speaking no Italian, and generally endeared herself to all & sundry before suddenly meeting a man and running away with him to the Mainland.
There is much in Sardinia to strike the casual visitor as quaint, and an array of fascinating cultural traditions are devotedly observed. As an example, over 1,000 traditional festivals are held on the island every year. These can be anything from pagan rituals celebrating the solstice, the coming of a season, or the harvesting of a particular crop, to sagres, religious celebrations in honour of a particular saint. These are extravagantly lively affairs in which the entire community takes part. In Pula, the most significant festival is that of Sant Efisio, the patron saint whose eponymous chapel stands just above the sands of the beach at Nora. This festival, held in May, culminates in a large procession and the roasting of a boar on the village square, whilst schoolchildren dance in traditional costume. However even on ordinary days, primary school children in Sardinia, both boys and girls, march hand in hand along the streets to school in costume; namely, little blue knee-length pinafores with white buttercup collars.
One hot afternoon, I am walking into the town when suddenly confronted by an oncoming funeral procession. Behind a bloom-covered hearse, two long columns of very elderly women, all in black, march chanting Latin masses in time. Behind them, a small cluster of bereaved relatives, howling and sobbing by turns, followed by a final, much larger group, which continued to pass me for over a minute. It was very moving, and so deeply ritualistic that it seemed to belong to an earlier century.
HISTORY: In Pulas bustling centre, the ornate, colourful little buildings, of indeterminate age, seem almost reminiscent of Mexico. As you reach the fringes of the town, however, these give way to larger, more modern villas. Many more of these are currently being built, especially along the road to Nora. This explosion in new development in a town that had otherwise remained roughly the same size since Roman times owes much to Italys recent entry into the EC. Once one of the poorest regions of Italy, and indeed of Europe as a whole, Sardinia is currently thriving and house prices are ten times what they were a decade ago. The cost of living, too, has skyrocketed, especially since the introduction of the Euro.
Beyond the white sandy beach at Nora, fringed with enormous date palms, a large team of archaeologists dig over an expanse of ancient ruins. This, too, is a testament to Sardinias place within the new Europe. Somewhat surprisingly, the ruins of Nora were first uncovered as recently as the 1950s. However, it was only an EU grant in the past decade that has facilitated a proper archaeological excavation of the site. This excavation is still very much ongoing, and only half of the ancient town has thus far been uncovered.
I spend a lazy couple of hours meandering amidst the ruins. Here, extensive relics bear witness both to Punic and Roman civilisations. There are clearly laid and largely intact Roman roads, complete with drainage, a number of impressive mosaic floors, the ruins of a small Amphitheater and of several baths and villas. There is a relic of the Punic Temple of Tanit, the Goddess of Fertility, and an impressive Roman theatre where performances are staged in the summer. Part of the ruins of the ancient Nora have been lost forever already, swept beneath the azure sea which laps up against the rocks around the promontory. Sadly, the remaining ruins seem similarly imperilled, despite sea defences, in the longer term at least. Meanwhile, a Saracen watchtower on the hillock overlooking the site commands stunning vistas across the white sands and dunes, which stretch along the coastline towards the Capo Spartivento.
A modest but well presented selection of the antiquities unearthed at Nora is on display at the Museo Archeologico, a small museum in central Pula. These include a number of urns of varying sizes in addition to Roman coins and jewellery.
SAND & SEAFOOD: The beautiful sandy beach at Nora is merely the first of many along this dazzling coastline. The waters are crystal clear, with small, silvery fish darting about in the shallows. Even in October, the sea is still beautifully warm. The coastline, especially when set against the backdrop of mountains and sheer cliff-faces, is a little reminiscent of Corfu.
Contrary to a commonly made assumption, Sardinias name has no connection whatsoever with sardines. Furthermore, and a little surprisingly, given its island setting, Sardinian cuisine is generally meat- rather than fish-based. Excellent seafood is invariably available, however. One Sardinian specialty unlikely to appeal to all visitors is the much-relished bistecche di cavallo or asinello (horse or donkey steak), which still appears on many menus and is commonly enjoyed by many an unwitting tourist. In Pula, there is even a horsemeat butcher on the main street, unambiguously signposted with a handsome equine profile on its front window. The islands chief specialty, however, is definitely porchetto (suckling pig) traditionally roasted on a spit. Most meals consist of a first course of pasta, followed by a meat course, and finishing with salad, cheese (such as Sardinian Pecorino) and possibly fruit. Sardinian pizzas are as large and delicious as those served in Naples, and the local bread is also excellent. Breakfast generally consists of espresso coffee and small, French style croissants, which may or may not be filled with jam, custard or chocolate.
ACCOMMADATION: Half a dozen hotels, mostly 4 or 5 star, command excellent positions on the seafront at Nora, many with their own private beaches, and hotel guests and locals alike lounge on the soft sands. Nearby, the massive five-star resort and spa at Forte Village is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, attracting celebrities and Russian oligarchs alike, and priced accordingly. More modest accommodation is available in Pula, and in other small townships along the coastline.
FINALLY: I only visited a tiny corner of Sardinia, but the little I did see of this beautiful island absolutely entranced me, and I am keen to return and explore it in greater detail. Indeed, my husband and I intend to return next Spring, with our children, a time when the festivals are in full swing, but before those gorgeous beaches become overcrowded. My Sardinian friend will not be there, the next time I visit, as she is inexplicably emigrating to Western Australia. However, I have no doubt that the Sardinian welcome we receive will be as warm as ever.
I flew to Sardinia with British Airways. Return economy flights cost from £90 inc. taxes.
Further information about visiting Pula is available here;
Listen, do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? (Hope youre singing along with me!)
I dont usually tell my secrets but this is so special I want to share it.
Holidays. We do need then now and again, and we were really looking forward to visiting Sardinia when BANG, the airline ran into problems and folded and we had to cancel the holiday as there wasnt another suitable flight. Fortunately we had four months to arrange an alternative and after much pouring over travel brochures and browsing the net we decided to book our own flights through Lastminute.com (if interested in their services see my review!)and stay at an apartment through our timeshare. By flying from Edinburgh to Birmingham, then to Rome we eventually reached our destination of Olbia on the East coast of Sardinia. We enjoyed a day of people watching so it didnt seem as long as we had originally feared.
I hear you asking, where is Sardinia? If you think of Italy and can imagine where Rome is, go to the west and slightly south, across the Tyrrhenian Sea and there it is below a smaller island called Corsica which belongs to France. Sardinia is almost rectangular in shape but with a jagged coastline, and it is much bigger than I had first imagined! The coastline stretches for approximately 1,800 kilometres and the surface area is over 23,000 sq. kilometres so this review only covers a small part of this beautiful island, and that is the north and mostly the north east in the area called Gallura. It is divided into 16 sub-regions and these come under four provinces called Cagliari, Sassari, Nuoro and Oristano.
The plane flew over some really rugged mountainous regions, I was amazed how little houses clung precariously on the mountainside, and I was more horrified at the narrow roads and the prospect of my husband driving us to our destination! But the beautiful sea and beaches gleamed and sparkled up at me in the early evening sunlight and I couldnt wait to land and start this Sardinian holiday.
The first thing that hit me was the heat! The plane was slightly late and it was by then 5.30pm but still 30 degrees, as we had left home at 4.30am on a dark wet morning this was quite a change! Cases collected, we found the car hire firm and set off for the Costa Smeralda. Easier said than done! OK, so my map reading needs some work on it! But to be fair the map we were given with the car was for the south of the island, and did not even have Olbia on it! I knew the road number, but discovered we were headed in the opposite direction! We turned round and tried again, no joy, third time lucky we realised (that is the Royal WE!) that we did in fact head in the wrong direction and then have to turn off! Fortunately we did have another map which I fished out of our hand luggage and we began our Colin Macrae rally driving experience! We discovered some fantastic double bends on steep hills so my husband soon became accustomed to the car and eventually after passing the outskirts of Port Cervo we reached our destination of Liscia di Vacca.
Checking in to the apartment was fun as not much English was spoken by the receptionist, and we had never been to Italy before! But I had been studying my Italian phrase book and we got by. They had run out of English information sheets and so we had to try and translate the Italian version! But we found our home for the week and quickly settled in. After a quick visit to the supermarket back in the village for basics to last the weekend we changed and went for a meal in the Pizzeria. After wonderful pizza and local wine sitting outside in the balmy evening overlooking the sea, we wandered hand in hand back to our villa. Romantic you think? No I needed a hand getting back up the really steep hill! Sardinia is really mountainous!
Next morning after breakfast on the patio, we set off to explore and walked along the beach, paddled in the beautifully clear sea and discovered the surrounding area. As the sun got hotter we returned to sit and relax until lunch time. After lunch and a wee siesta we set off in the car along the coast to Baia Sardinia. The many restaurants still had lots of people relaxing after a late lunch. This seemed rather like a purpose built holiday town and had lots of hotels and designer type shops, so as we wanted to discover the real Sardinia we continued along the coast stopping to admire the view if we could find somewhere suitable and walked around a sleepy little place called Cannigone which had lots of small boats and lovely scenery, then a trip across some barren countryside got us back safely, my map reading had improved tremendously!
The Costa Smeralda literally means the Emerald coast and was transformed as a holiday paradise for people with money, by the multi millionaire Karim Aga Khan. Other developers were then allowed to build and this resulted in many holiday resorts/timeshare style areas being built. I have to say although we are not rich there were obviously people who were, but he certainly discovered a fantastic area with wonderful beaches and the sea was so clean we could see the fish swimming around us as we enjoyed the lovely warm water. Sadly although the beaches have sun beds and umbrellas, showers and even changing huts, they never seem to have a toilet, so you had to find a café with one! Male mind informed me that is why the water is so clear and un-polluted, because if there were toilets at beach level it would have to go into the sea.
Porto Cervo was just a few kilometres away, and with our trusty guide book we found some parking near the beautiful and unusual shaped church. This reminded me of a new area that has been built in Malta with expensive hotels and shops and a marina full of expensive boats. The church was called Stella Maris and was the home of a beautiful painting by El Greco called Mater Dolorosa. Well we certainly enjoyed looking at the boats, seeing vans coming in and carrying trays of beautiful fresh fruits and other produce, immaculate dressed staff cleaning already clean boats for their rich owners. The Rolex yacht race was on and they were preparing to go out so it was a hive of activity. Another day we saw the start of the race, but we were on top of a rock at the time several miles away! I only window shopped here as I hadnt got enough spending money to buy anything in Cartier or Armani! But there was a supermarket mixed in with all the smart shops which I found amusing but as we didnt want to carry food around we didnt check it out. There are golf courses and tennis courts for the energetic but we found it was a place to sit and enjoy an over priced coffee and watch the world go by. Porto Cervo seen we then turned our backs on the beautiful people and again went to find the real Sardinia.
From our apartment we could see the Isola Caprera so another day we headed north to get a better view. Along with Isola Maddalena visits can be made by ferry, but we couldnt manage to park in Palau to check out times and suddenly found ourselves in the port and being waved on towards the boat, so like the cars in front we tried to explain we were passing through and managed to drive out the other side! Perhaps well get there another time. Garibaldi lived on Caprera for some time and there is a museum which is popular with Italians.
We drove on through wonderful rock formations and tree and shrub lands to Santa Teresa di Gallura, although to us it was a small town it actually was a little city and is the most northerly community in Sardinia. We visited the remains of the nuraghi and climbed up to enjoy the view, it was a pleasant town with a small beach on one side and people were all busy going about there daily lives. As it was a bit early for lunch we drove on down the west coast called the Costa Paradiso and headed for Isola Rossa which had been were we had originally booked our hotel. We left the main road at Trinita dAgultu and drove 6 kilometres down a winding road to reach Isola Rossa. We never did find the hotel! But after walking along the esplanade we stopped in a Pizzeria and had a leisurely lunch in the shade overlooking the sea. This little town had a few shops and lots of cafes and seemed a typical seaside town. The hotels were further up the hill and seemed to have steps down to the beach. We were glad we had not ended up here as we probably would not have hired a car and got out and about as it did seem a bit off the beaten track, so something good came out of the cancellation.
On our way back through Tempio Pausania we admired some fantastic rock formations. This is the main town of the Gallura region and an important centre for the cork industry. There is a wonderful pine forest here and nearby are thermal springs, as these have diuretic properties we gave it a miss! Almost three quarters of Sardinias surface is covered with rock dating back to the Palaeozoic era. I am not a geologist but this would be a place of interest for them. Where layers of crystalline slate have eroded the granite emerges and this gets weathered by rain and wind and forms the most fantastic shapes I have ever seen. When the Alps were formed and there was a lot of movement Sardinia and Corsica were thrust away from the main land, the island was so stretched and pulled and a gigantic rift emerged which runs through the entire island. I was amazed at how many woody plants were growing even at heights of around 800metres, where the soil is acid there are lots of cork oak trees and the cork products are available in local shops. Oak trees of different sorts grow all over the island, as do olive trees and fig trees and there is a lot of shrub woodland which grows up to 5 metres and is called macchia. Although I understand we didnt visit at the best time to see lots of flowers we did however notice heather and little rock roses and other flowers which I did not recognise. We didnt touch the huge flowering cactus or prickly pear for obvious reasons!
In the eastern half of Sardinia granite is very prominent. We decided to visit the famous Bear Rock, it is found near Capo dOrso, there is a charge for the car park but it wasnt expensive. The climb up to it has been made easier in a very sympathetic way and fits in well. These so called sculptures formed by weathering are called Tafoni. Some are more mushroom shaped and these are called fungo. Traditionally shepherds used the natural shelters for protection from the sun or the rain. Although it was a 200ft climb it was worth the effort even with the sun blazing down.
I did not enjoy History at school but have to admit I quite like finding out about things when we are visiting places so on this holiday I found out about the Nuragic culture, named after the round towers or nuraghi built from huge stone blocks. This was between 1500-500BC. These were built in prominent places to deter potential aggressors. We decided to have a morning visiting several of these in the area around Arzachena. This is the historical municipal town of the sub-region Gallura. It is a fertile area and farming of cereals and vines are popular here. They are managed by the local council and you pay to visit, you can buy a ticket for each one individually or it is cheaper to buy a ticket to visit up to 5 of the tombs. It was a few euros for each one, but as it was hard to find anywhere to park for the one, they certainly had the right idea as many people drove off without stopping! We visited the Tomba dei Giganti Coddu Vecchiu the Giants tomb, legend has it that giants with supernatural powers built the nuraghi and buried their dead there. I cannot imagine how people so long ago raised stones as large as these without mechanical devices! Another was called the Necropolis of Li Muri this had several rectangular tombs and encircled by smaller stone slabs and Tomba dei Giganti li Lolghi, an edge had been cut into the stone as was described as a masterpiece of its time.
Food and wine obviously plays an important part in anyones holiday. As our resort was a few kilometres from Liscia di Vacca, and my husband was driving during the day we intended to use the restaurant and Pizzeria at the resort so we could enjoy a bottle of wine. Sadly only the Pizzeria was open, although the resort is open all year, so we didnt have a choice of places to eat, it appeared to be the end of the Italian holidays and all but one of the little shops were also closed. But they had lovely pizzas and pasta dishes and fresh fish and grilled meats were also available. The mixed fish was superb with crayfish, octopus and cuttle fish to name a few, the Sea Bass we had one evening was absolutely delicious. I enjoyed all the wines which we sampled, and although we brought some back it never tastes the same without the warm sun! There were all sorts of different breads, the most famous is pane karasau meaning become hard, it is a wafer thin round slice and the shepherds used to take this with them as it keeps for weeks. Warmed up and served with a few drops of olive oil it goes well with a glass of wine as you wait for your meal! Eating out was expensive even in the pizzeria! Pasta starter for one, bread, selection of grilled fish and a dolce sardi (sweet of the day) plus wine, water and coffee was over 80 Euros, pizza started at about 6 euros. So one day we bought some of the local gnocchetti sardi which is baby pasta shells and along with a jar of tomato sauce and some ham and local cheeses I cooked dinner, a simple starter and heavenly almond cake along with some well chilled wine completed my simple meal at about an eighth of the cost! The local cheeses are very tasty and come from soft fresh cheese to the harder varieties. Supermarkets are well stocked with all produce, and we purchased some tasty savouries for lunch time. We of course sampled the delicious ice cream, it was hard which to choose, my favourite was a mocha coffee concoction, although the peach sorbet was very refreshing!
I have mentioned the temperature in September was 30 degrees, on our last morning I woke at 5.30am something was banging, the shutter had become loose and I discovered it was thundering. The storm lasted for several hours and when we ventured in the afternoon, once the rain and lightening had stopped, the roads were littered with rocks which had washed down the hillside! It was quite a storm! Fortunately the power was only off for a short time.
Well, thats my Sardinian secret out. We didnt hear an English voice until the end of our holiday, which made us feel we really were in a foreign country. It made us try the language and everyone was so friendly and helped us with the pronunciation it was well worth the effort, a few buon journo, per favore, and grazie certainly helps. It isnt easy to get to Sardinia unless you live in the south of England, or can get easily to Rome and it is an expensive destination, although I accept we were in an expensive tourist area, but we are going again next September, because we want to discover a bit more of the secret of Sardinia.
It was Cyprus that Saki described as having "produced more history than could be consumed locally," but the same could be said of almost any of the Mediterranean's larger islands, and certainly of Sardinia.
One is reminded of Sardinia's history almost on arrival, assuming one has come the cheap way, by Ryanair to Alghero in the north-west of the island. Alghero is a handsome town, in its older parts at least, with a fortified promontory jutting out into the sea to guard the port. Within the old walls is a rabbit-warren of narrow streets and small squares, crammed with mediaeval buildings including some fine churches with Spanish-style bell-towers.
The fortifications were built by the Spanish, who used the town as a strongpoint for their occupation from the 14th to the 17th centuries and evicted the original inhabitants, replacing them with settlers predominantly from Catalonia. Many of the local place-names are Catalan, and apparently native Algherans speak among themselves a dialect that is as much Catalan as Italian.
Outside the old town, Alghero is also a modern beach resort, although it has not been as over-developed and internationalised as equivalent seaside towns across the Western Med in Catalonia proper have been. If you wanted a holiday of beach and swimming-pool, seasoned by the proximity of the old town for an evening stroll and a drink or dinner in one of the cafés or restaurants behind the sea-wall, complete with a view of the sunset behind the towering Capo Caccia across the bay, Alghero would be excellent for the purpose. Apart from those in the town itself there are modern hotels dotted - not sprawled - around the scenic coast with its sub-tropical vegetation to the north.
Foxielady has written an excellent review of Alghero as a resort, which I would urge anyone interested in this type of holiday to read. Being myself of a more restless disposition, as soon as I could tear my wife away from the beach we headed off to see other parts of the island.
Sardinia is, after Sicily, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, occupying an area about the size of Wales. I don't know what it is about Wales that makes it the yardstick for so many comparisons of this sort, but it does here happen to be an appropriate one: Sardinia is in fact just 16% larger than the principality, with about half the population density. With most of the population living around the coast, this makes for some very wild and empty country in the mountainous parts of the interior.
The island is divided into four provinces, of which I visited three. The largest, based on the capital Cagliari in the south, I failed to see at all, although I have plans to return to Sardinia and include it next year, after which I shall update this opinion.
In the north is the province of Sassari, which includes Alghero and also, in the opposite north-eastern corner, the stretch of coastline known as the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast). This area was opened up by the Aga Khan in the 1960s as a holiday playground for the rich and famous - Sardinia?s answer to the Côte d'Azur - with prices to match. Although it has lost some of its cachet as it has become the focal point for ever more ribbon development along the shore, its reputation is still of being snobbish and over-priced. I therefore avoided it.
In the central western part of the island is the province of Oristano, mostly low-lying and unexciting visually, but containing some of the most impressive historical and archaeological remains - of which more below.
Finally, funnelling out from a tiny foothold on the west coast to cover a wide swath of the east - and encompassing most of the mountains of the interior in between - is the province of Nuoro, where I spent most of my time on the island.
The city of Nuoro and the mountainous parts of its province have a grim reputation.
The guidebooks use words like "remote" and "forbidding", and describe the people as "gruff", "reserved" and "suspicious". The area is known as the Barbagia - a name derived from the Latin - the Romans called this the "barbarous" region, because they never managed to conquer it, and the control exercised by many subsequent colonisers of the island was also tenuous. An ancient, pre-Roman Sardinian language is still spoken by some older locals, and local customs such as brigandage and the vendetta still flourished within living memory.
If the people were reserved and suspicious it would be understandable, given a history of conquest and attempted conquest by rapacious outsiders ("he who comes by the sea comes to rob us" as the local saying has it) and exploitation by absentee landlords.
In my limited experience, however, the reputation is utterly undeserved. Our tentative "buongiornos" to locals met when out on walks were usually returned with smiles, and often with added "benvenutos" or similar friendly greetings. Conversations in mixed, broken Italian and English were easily struck up in cafés, admittedly greatly facilitated by the knowledge necessary to discuss the career of Gianfranco Zola, born in Nuoro province, and now returned to Sardinia to play for Cagliari after many years as a Chelsea idol.
We stayed at Aritzo in the heart of the Monti del Gennargantu - the Barbagia's central massif - at the Hotel Sa Muvara, one of those discoveries so good that I hesitate to share it.
Sardinian hotels are not on the whole cheap. The Sa Muvara was the least expensive we stayed in and easily the best, beautifully situated and well-equipped with huge swimming-pool, pleasant restaurant and comfortable well-furnished rooms. We paid 73 euros per head per night half-board for a room with balcony and mountain view. Half-board included a big and varied buffet breakfast, a huge four-course dinner of local specialities washed down with as much wine as we could drink, and in effect a picnic lunch as well. Since the staff were so friendly, instead of sneaking extra rolls and fruit out of breakfast to sustain us on our day's walking, we asked if we could do so, fully expecting to be charged extra, but nothing was added to the bill.
The walking in the Gennargantu is excellent, though with some severe ups and downs, some rugged terrain and some scratchy undergrowth to push through if you leave the beaten track - best not to wear shorts. Although there are some paths waymarked, the area is not much developed for walkers, and in many ways all the better for it, but best to equip yourself with a compass and the local IGM (Istituto Geografico Militare) large-scale map.
The mountainsides provide dramatic scenery. They are punctuated with rocky limestone outcrops but are not treeless. There are clumps of various oaks and chestnuts, and the macchia, a shrubby mixture of arbutus, tree heather, myrtle and wild olive.
I remarked that, despite the trees, there was a desiccated, colourless quality to the landscape, and was derided by my wife, a keen plantsperson. She pointed out the extraordinary number of wild flower species that would be blooming colourfully if only we had had the sense to go in April or May rather than September, especially a September following a long hot summer that had scorched landscapes throughout Western and Southern Europe, not just in Sardinia.
I remarked on the paucity of wildlife, and was quickly corrected by the appearance of wild horses, semi-wild goats and pigs, lizards and numerous birds. Some friends who joined us from England for this part of the holiday and who are keen birdwatchers, were particularly excited by the latter. It appears that I have now seen griffon vultures in the wild.
Winding down from the mountains to the eastern Tyrrhenian coast of the island, the road passes through numerous villages. Although often impressively situated and full of character, their appearance sometimes lacks charm, especially architecturally. They are functional and bare, and the more modern additions on the outskirts frequently have an unfinished look.
None is more visually unappealing from a distance than Orgosolo, but this village has more than compensated for the long view by decorating itself, to provide a visual feast for visitors. For this is the village of the murals.
Apparently there has been a long tradition of local painting in Orgosolo, but little of this is evident in the murals that decorate the walls of the village, most of them painted since 1970, when the village became a centre for radical artists and students. Now there are about two hundred, in all sizes, shapes and a number of styles, from the peasant naïve to the political-cartoon satirical. Some are accomplished, some are crude, some original, some derivative, some nostalgic, some revolutionary. All are worth a look, and wandering through the village is a little like wandering through an open-air art gallery.
Orgosolo and its murals have been discovered by the tourist trade (indeed, the cynical might speculate that they were originated or at least encouraged with just such discovery in mind), and frequent coach tours visit the village, but this need not impinge on one's own enjoyment of the experience. And it is probably a healthier way for the locals to earn a living than traditional banditry.
The central eastern seaboard is even more scenic than the western, with cliffs punctuated by caves, grottoes, beaches and little fishing ports that often now double as resorts. I stayed in one of the better known of these, Cala Gonone.
Cala Gonone nestles in the shadow of a spectacular mountain ridge known as the Supramonte, and is reached via a tunnel pierced through the rock and a series of breath-taking hairpin bends as you descend to the shore.
The town has reputedly been taken up by artists and latter-day hippies, but I saw little sign of this. Indeed, I found it rather characterless, with neither a sense of genuine antiquity nor of vibrant contemporary life, just everyday tourism. The architecture is undistinguished, the hotels ordinary, the beach rather rocky, with gritty, sand.
To escape the town, we walked a few miles south to Cala Luna, a famously pretty beach accessible only by boat or footpath, only to find it more crowded that Cala Gonone itself, with ferries running a continuous and noisy shuttle service in and out.
Our hotelier assured us that he could arrange a boat trip to more remote and more deserted beaches. Perhaps. He was the sort of character who could arrange anything, at a price. We made other plans.
I won?t attempt a potted history of the island here, or this piece will go on for ever. Flicking through my historical atlas, it seems to be under different sovereignty on every page: Phoenician, Roman, the Kingdom of the Vandals (would you believe?), Moorish, Byzantine, Pisan, Genoan, Aragonese, Spanish, Austrian, Savoyard, and Piedmontese before being finally incorporated into Italy in 1861.
Probably all of these episodes have left their mark on Sardinian architecture, customs and culture, had I the wit to identify the traces. However, apart from the obvious Spanish/Catalan influences round Alghero, most of what I saw seemed to me very little different from elsewhere in Southern Italy.
The most individual and interesting of historic remains predate any of these periods. These are the remnants of an indigenous people known as the Nuraghi, who flourished about 1500-1000 BC. Their towers, constructed from reddish-grey volcanic stone, are dotted all over the island, so common that the smaller ones are often unattended in the midst of farmland. Characteristically about ten metres high, and fifteen to twenty metres in diameter at the base, narrowing to ten metres or so at the top, hollow and with an interior staircase but no windows, their precise purpose is still uncertain.
Some Nuraghic sites have further, unexpected features in a different style, like the underground water temple, in finely chiselled granite, at Santa Cristina.
And for those who like ruins, there are extensive, if less extraordinary, Roman remains at Tharros near Oristano.
Sardinian food is good, especially seafood on the coast and meat in the mountains, as one might expect, but not very different from mainland Italian. Pecorino cheese, in both hard and soft varieties, is a local speciality. Another is pane karasau ? wafer-thin hard dry unleavened bread, a bit like matzo but tastier.
Local wines include some varieties not found elsewhere, and which they do not seem to export in any quantity. I particularly liked the crisp dry white Torbato (available both in both still and sparkling versions) and the rich dark red Cannonau. Well worth going back for. There is also local beer, which is unexceptional.
Although there is evidently a Sardinian culture that is distinctive from that of Italy at large, and in which Sardinians take a pride, the independence seems muted. Compared with its northern neighbour Corsica, here one sees few of the daubed slogans and graffiti and hears of little illicit activity by separatist extremists. In Corsica the head-banded Corsair's head is a nationalist symbol; in Sardinia it is just a feature of the provincial flag.
Perhaps Italy allows more autonomy than France allows Corsica, perhaps Sardinians are just more laid-back than Corsicans, or perhaps Sardinia does better from Italian federal and EU regional aid.
Certainly the state of the roads suggests that someone is investing in the infrastructure. I had worried about driving our cheapest-group, flimsy hired car along rutted mountain tracks and "stradi bianchi", but even the almost-empty back-roads of the interior were in excellent condition, and a Y-shaped arrangement of motorways links Cagliari with the two northern corners of Sardinia.
If you want to get around without hiring a car, there are plenty of buses and a railway network, but the narrow-gauge railway that features in many guidebooks as weaving picturesquely through the mountains appears to have been taken out of service, or at least drastically curtailed. I walked along its overgrown and disused tracks to a derelict station a few miles north of Aritzo. A pity; it would have a beautiful and interesting way to see more of the interior.
Italy, in my experience, is often more expensive than its Mediterranean neighbours, even France, and Sardinia is much the same as elsewhere in Italy. You can probably holiday more cheaply in Greece, Spain or Portugal. But if you enjoy the Italian character style, Sardinia offers that and adds some interesting features of its own; to me that seemed worth paying for, and I would do so again.
You can fly direct from Gatwick to Cagliari or Olbia (convenient for the Costa Smeralda) with Meridiana, or via mainland Italy by Alitalia or British Airways. But when we looked into it, by far the cheapest option was Ryanair from Stansted to Alghero. Ryanair prices vary with the flight and the time of booking; my wife and I ended up paying about £90 each return midweek, including airport taxes, etc. Our friends who flew out at a weekend paid slightly more.
Alternatively, one could motor down through France in a leisurely way, take a ferry across to Corsica, spend a few days there and take another ferry to Sardinia. Hmmm, there's a thought for another time.
D H Lawrence was a great fan of the island, and you see his book "Sea and Sardinia" on sale in tourist shops everywhere. Out of laziness or native contrariness, I failed to read it, but I will do so before going back, as I intend to.
I was continuously conscious, during my short stay, of the island's depth of interest and diversity, of the fact that I was seeing little and devoting all too little time even to that. It was a surface-scratching visit, but I will return to try to look beneath the surface, or at least to have another scratch.
© duncantorr 2003 (n.b. torr on Ciao UK)
We decided on a Sardinian holiday after visiting Corsica last year. The islands are very similar with the obvious exception of one being French and the other being Italian. On the whole, the roads in Sardinia are better than Corsica and it is certainly cheaper to get to (£120 round trip through RyanAir flying from Stansted to Alghero). We stayed in Porto San Paolo which is on the north east coast just below Olbia. This time we decided to everything ourselves so the flights were booked through the RyanAir web site, we booked a car through the easyautos website (www.easyautos.co.uk) and the apartment through the web also. This worked out a hell of a lot cheaper than going through any of the normal channels - I reckon we saved over £300 and we had no problems at all (maybe we were lucky). The apartment we rented was just up the hill from Porto San Paulo - certainly within walking distance although it is a bit of a pull back up the hill on hot nights. The apartment was very nice with a fridge, hob, etc. although no oven or grill, or air conditioning for that matter. Flavio, the owner/manager who you deal with throughout the booking process is extremely helpful, speaks very good English and provides a very comprehensive set of instructions. The instructions cover all the local beaches - definitely needed as it is not obvious from the main road how to get to the beaches and you would simply not find them without help - plus shops, restaurants, excursions and so on. Quite simply these instructions were invaluable and contributed greatly to our holiday enjoyment. My only gripe with the apartments was that you really had to drive to all the beaches - Porto San Paolo acts as an excellent base, but the beach is shingle compared to the brilliant white sands of some of the nearby beaches. You can check out where we stayed at http://www.lavru.it/en/home.htm - the site is in English and Italian, and yes the beaches are shown we
re local and we visited all of them. We went in June and it was really hot (I think hotter than normal) and, although the main public beaches were busy they weren't too crowded - some of the smaller beaches in Flavio's instructions had small coves whish you could have to yourselves. Our apartment had a fantastic view out over the sea to the island of Tavolara. We went on excursions north to the Costa Smerelda - very nice but watch the prices in the cafe's - and south down to Cala Gonone - which is well worth a visit to see the sea caves and Cala Luna.
We are not well travelled, but decided to take advantage of the Ryanair cheap flights to Alghero in Sardinia February 2003. We found very little information on the internet so I hope the following helps a few fellow travellers. Alghero Airport: We took the 8.45 flight from London Stansted to Alghero-Fertilia and arrived local time at 12.00. However there was not a bus to Alghero until 14.20. The bus fare would have been 1.81 euros but we decided to share a taxi with two fellow travellers which cost 7.50 euros per person including tips. Do go to the Tourist Information Desk and arm yourself with a map of Alghero.The gentleman there spoke very good English. Hotel La Margherita: This hotel was chosen by many of the Ryanair passengers as it offered good value for money. It is extremely well located for everything in Alghero. It is close to the sea front,the lovely Catalan old town,supermarket, the shops on xx Settembre, tourist information,harbour and bus terminal. Our room was basic but had T.V and ensuite bath(about 3ft 6 inches long) and over bath shower. The room next door had shower only and other rooms had balconies. The brochure stated that the hotel had a restaurant serving Sardinian and international dishes but the eating area was only used to serve a cold buffet breakfast in the morning starting at 8.00. The weather was too cold to use the roof top solarium. The radiators in the rooms were not operating but the air conditioning unit under the windows could be set for heat. There was a bar downstairs serving drinks and coffee. People sat there in their coats as it was very cold. The staff did their job, but apart from the old man in the cloth cap and one of the young girls, do not expect to be served by staff who have been on a 'customer service course.' Eating Out: The hotel will recommend good eating places. We ate at the Trattoria Maristella on Via F.lli Kennedy not far away. It opens at 12.30and 20.00. Get there earl
y for a seat.The food is reasonably priced and includes meat, fish and pasta dishes. The menus are in English. Street signs also point the way to the main eating places. The biggest problem is finding out opening times and even location as many places are closed behind shutters when not in business and you don't know what's behind them. Tourist Information: This is situated at the end of Via Sassari towards the old harbour. Again get maps and bus/train information from here. It closes at 14.00. Buses and trains: Bus and train tickets are incredibly cheap but the services can be infrequent The bus terminal is near the corner of Via Catalognoa/Via Garibaldi. It looks like a public toilet (which it also is!). We cannot speak Italian, but the words "Due bigliatto, Sassari, por favore." ( Two tickets Sassari please) produced two bus tickets to Sassari. "Fermato?" (Bus stop?) and we were pointed to the stop. On Via Garibaldi were 2 bus stops one for Fds and the other for ARST. The bus timetable will show you which bus company you will be using. We took the train back from Sassari;-"Due bigliatto singolo Alghero" got us two single tickets back to Alghero Lido. The train station is a good walk from the hotel but it does bring you past the beautiful white sands at the top of the town. Our return Ryanair flight left at 12.35 and we were able to purchase a bus ticket at a local tobacconist shop. The bus leaves at 9.40 from Piazza Mercede which is just at the back of Hotel La Margherita.(Walk up the road past the Post Office, cross at the zebra crossing and you will see Fermata AA) The bus only had 10 seats and this is its first stop. If you haven't hired a car and want to look round the island do get a bus timetable and get out on the local transport as it is exceptinally good value. Summary: Alghero is a lovely place, when the sun came out it was most pleasant and at night the old town was lit up and
vibrant. Our stay was in an unusually cold February. To make the most of your stay; 1) First get a map and bus/train timetables. 2) Ask the hotel for recommended places to eat and their opening times. 3) Be aware that the shops close 1-4pm 4) If you want to take a bus, the bus terminal is probably the best place to start. 5) If you're going in February take a warm jumper.
We needed sunshine and Ryan Air had VERY cheap airfares from the UK to Sardinia. Good question: where IS Sardinia (Answer: 10 miles from Corsica. And where is that? Answer: to the Left of Italy!) LOCAL TRANSPORT When we arrived, we first tried to find the bus that was to take us to the city centre (reminds me of John Lennon's nearsightedness: "What Bus?"). This is when we KNEW we had not studied the Italian language CD's enough! But everyone understood the word "taxi", so got in a queue/lined up for the next one... and waited... and waited. Finally a rather small cab turned up and we squished ourselves and luggage inside. (I had been warned that you can end up waiting ages for your luggage when you return to England on Ryan air, so opted for carry-ons only). So off we went - zoom! ZOOM! - beware the way they drive! Not long into the ride, we came upon a Dead Ducatti in the Middle of the Road (with apologies to Loudon Wainwright III)! For the uninitiated, this is a VERY expensive motorcycle - we are talking over 6,000 bucks! The driver was okay but very depressed as he had less than 20 miles on the new bike! WHERE WE STAYED Eventually we made it to our Hotel - the St Giuan, or San Juan, depending on your accent. This was when we understood more about Sardinia/Sardegna having more than one language as it is a mixture of Italian, Catalan, and ALL the other previous invaders. And we learned that the missing BUS would have taken us to the bus station - quite a way out of town and NOT walking distance to the hotel. I was a tad disappointed with the hotel - on the positive side, we were 1/2 block from the beach. BUT this was across a very busy street and the drivers are NOT pedestrian friendly. Our hotel was two star **; We had breakfast and drinks in front of the hotel, in a small paved area behind a bougainvilla hedge, nothing to look at but the side
of the building. Because it can be so hot in the summer, the windows have roll down, industrial strength blinds, which keep ALL the sun out! Of course, they also keep all the light out, so we found ourselves sleeping rather late! And the beach was just across the road from us. But there was no place to order a beverage at this part of the beach. To find such a place you had to walk towards town or towards the more built up portion of the beach. BUT enough with the negative stuff! The hotel was run by a family who were very helpful and since our Italian consisted of Thanks, You're Welcome, Good day and More Beer, it was great to have someone who spoke English and who was endlessly patient with my inability to remember how to ask for my room key (18) in Italian! Speaking of room 18, it was on the ground floor, so it was just a few steps out to the sunshine in the morning BUT, it was under the owners apartment and someone wore HIGH HEELS and clacked across the floor, and the ghost builders made a racket (we hung out our window but could not see them, hence the Ghost designation). We thought about asking to be moved, but were so happy to be there in the sunshine that the group mentality said, ah, let's just go to the Beach! The hotel ended up costing us about 30 euros/$ or 20 pounds per person per night, including breakfast of croissant and yoghurt, juice and coffee, for two sharing with either twin beds or double beds, with your own bathroom/shower. ABOUT ALGHERO We stayed in Alghero, in the North West. Big intentions to explore the whole place but it had everything we wanted, so we just hung out there for 5 days. Other parts of the island all have their own special character, from the North East, where the Aga Khan developed a very expensive posh area, to the south where there is more shopping and bustle, and the interior where there are more sights to see. Each day, we parked ourse
lves in front of the most BLUE ocean, shallow, so you could walk out, and fine, white sand, like talcum powder. There was a gaggle of retired ladies who met there each day, and sat in the sun and chatted. Was surprised to find some hawkers, selling clothes. They were interested in the Canadian accent, but not too much of a pest. The walk to town strangely was past a lot of construction (road being dug up - apparently this is a cultural thing!) We especially liked the walled town - you could sit along the top of the wall and toast the sunset, and if a glass of wine wasn't your cup of tea, the Gelato, ah the Gelato! I have had 'italian ice cream' in other places, but it is nothing as good as this! My favourite was fruit of the cactus (Sardinia is tropical but arid and a good place for Prickly Pear cactus to grow) half and half with Limone (lemon) or Ciocolotto (chocolate, of course). It was not hard to figure out what you were eating, if you know a little french or spanish, you could get by! We stopped at the Tourist information, who gave us a handy free map and a list of Restaurants - with tratorria being family type, inexpensive but excellent food, pizzeria, being middle of the road and the more expensive restaurants having the lobster to match the local wine, a white tasty brew (called same as lobster in Sardinian). I pooped out but my fellow travellers went to a club where the salsa dancing was top notch and kept them spell bound enough to forgive a rude waitron! No mind, they just countered by ordering two drinks eachtime, so they didn't have to wait! There was a mini-train that did tours of the town, which I would have ridden (but was overruled by the rest) just to get my bearings. It was quite easy to find where you were, because of the large towers to use as landmarks. CONCLUSIONS So what will I miss about Sardegna? The thin, flat bread, like pita bread but baked in the ov
en and sprinkled with rock salt and olive oil! It was the first thing delivered to your table and we ATE IT ALL! The calamari (squid) grilled, and the local pasta which was small like a cereal. And what do I wish I had known? That it can get very cool at night! I only brought one sweater/jumper and managed to spill gelato on the front the first day so I wished I had taken my denim jacket too (this was end of Sept/beginning of October). Next time I want to take the 10 mile ferry trip to Corsica to see the contrasts and similarities, and to take the bus south and experience the other cities. A tropical paradise in the Mediterranean, only a couple of hours from the U.K.! I cannot wait to come back again...
I should warn you: this is the longest opinion I've written so far. A double espresso beside your computer might help you to get through the reading. Not a cup of tea, we're going to coffee country! In case you think of going to Sardinia or any other Italian region one day, forget about tea altogether. Only a masochist would order tea in an Italian bar (as only an Italian masochist would order coffee in a British establishment, so there). When you offer tea to an Italian, you might hear, "No, thank you, I'm fine." Italians drink tea, black or the herbal variety, when they feel unwell, it's medicine for them.
Now, have you got your coffee ready? Off we go.
HOW TO GET THERE
The majority of German tourists go to Sardinia by car and ferry, the majority of British tourists go there by plane. Ah, yes, of course, I hear you saying, the distance! No, that's not the main reason. Not all Germans live in the south, in fact the most densely populated region in Germany is the Ruhr valley which is on the same latitude as the south of England. Look at the map, it's true!
Germans started to discover Sardinia as individual tourists, they got to know Sardinians who had emigrated to Germany, made friends with them and decided to see their home region (that's what happened to yours truly). The Sardinians helped them to find accommodation and so they 'spread' all over the island. Up to today there is no 'German' part where they are concentrated. The reason why you find many Germans everywhere you go is that we are the most numerous people in Europe! 80 million! And the Germans are the world champions when it comes to travelling.
It made me very angry when I read in an op about Sardinia to avoid beaches with crowds of Krauts (my words, but that is what the writer meant). I avoid my countryfolks myself when abroad, my Italian husband looks and listens the othe
r way when he meets Italians outside Italy, a Dane advised me never to set foot on the 'Danish' beach in Mallorca, the long and short of it is: crowds of anybodies are to be avoided when not in their home countries! If you really enjoy the 'British beaches' in, say, Tenerife, then MY Sardinia is not for you.
Flying there is still very expensive for us, so only people who have a lot of money do that and then stay in holiday resorts near the airports.
British tourists discovered Sardinia much later, to be precise when charter flights were organized to Alghero in the north west of the island. The Sardinians are quite happy about that, I've heard, because the British prefer late spring/early summer when Italian tourists don't come yet, so they help to prolong the season. As they don't come by car they stay mainly in the area round Alghero which can be said to be in British hands.
But now you've got Ryan Air! We envy you! The air fare is so cheap that you should consider renting a car and discover the island. After reading my op you'll hopefully be convinced that it's worth while.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF TOURISM IN SARDINIA
The first time I was in Sardinia was in 1965 (maybe most of the readers of this op weren't born then yet!), I've witnessed the transformation of Sardinia from a white spot on the map of tourism to the most sought after holiday region of Italy. In 1998 the tourist industry in Sardinia had the highest growth rate of all Italian regions, last year the boom continued and this year won't be different.
I got to know an Italian student from Sardinia when I studied in Heidelberg. When he had gone home in summer I decided to visit him there. I stayed with him and his family on the beach in a hut made of bamboo, wood and cardboard. The winegrowers have nothing to do on their fields before the vintage in September, so they put
up those 'baracche', all in all there were about twenty. They transported some furniture, kitchen things and beds in vans to the beach, and then the families lived there for some weeks. The children played in the sand and in the water, the mothers watched them, sitting far up on the beach, or chatted in front of the huts like the men, sitting on chairs, never in the sand, and with their backs to the water!
The Sardinians don't love the water; since the beginning of time all evil has always come across the sea, and even nowadays many people can't swim. Only the youngsters go into the water, but most of them can't swim well, it's more splashing around than swimming. Swimming isn't taught in school, either. The ferries, the diving for corals, fishing - all that is operated or done by continentals, mostly people from Naples. The Sardinians call the mainland 'continent' and their fellow Italians 'continentals'.
You can buy fish in Sardinia now, there are also restaurants where you can eat fish, even excellent ones, but fish isn't typical for Sardinia, at least not for the interior. The Sardinians are meat eaters, the specialities being: sucking pig, lamb, kid, preferably roasted on a skewer over an open fire.
I know what the expression 'Sticking out like a sore thumb' means! During my first visit I was the only foreigner on a beach which is about 3 miles long, I'm blond, have fair skin and am a lot taller than the men and women of my age group, and then I was the only one to wear a bikini!
The men occasionally ventured a little swim, for the women a pole had been rammed into the sand with a rope tied to it. After crossing themselves and looking to heaven, they worked their way along it into the water, that is 2-3 m, fully dressed! Then they lay on rocks for a while waiting for their clothes to dry, and as the salt water made the cloth stiff th
ey went back to their huts as if they were wearing crinolines.
After that time camping reached Sardinia; as tents were very expensive in those days, it was considered a little luxury. The first 'continentals' discovered Sardinia, a region they didn't really know anything about. They had learnt in school that it was one of the Italian regions, but that was it, more or less.
Meanwhile the north of Sardinia, the Costa Smeralda (because of the emerald colour of the water) developed into one of the top regions of international top tourism. Marbella, the Caribbean, Costa Smeralda, the jet set has to go somewhere, hasn't it? I don't want to go into details here, although the transformation of the formerly wild coast where only some forlorn sheep used to graze into highly elegant, artificial holiday resorts with artificial harbours for yachts and ships is quite interesting, especially the question in how far - or if at all - the Sardinians profited from it. But I suppose that the readers of this op are not into hols in which one night costs 1000 pounds and more (yes, one thousand)!
The camping sites remained, but 'wild' camping was forbidden. The Sardinians gained a bit more prosperity and started turning the sheds and small houses they had on their fields for the storage of tools, manure etc. into real houses in which they, and also some tourists, could stay during the summer months. When you go to Sardinia now, you can see new houses everywhere, already or nearly finished. You can also find holiday clubs, a main building with the restaurant and small houses for the guests around. Of course, there are hotels, too, but in all Sardinia you can't find a really tall building. I guess that on the whole island there are no more beds for tourists than in, say, Torremolinos, Spain. Everything is kind of low scale and will stay like that, at least in the near future (and hopefully forever).
HO SHOULD GO THERE?
Who would I advise to go to Sardinia? Families with small children! The beaches are so wonderful, the water is so clean and warm that they won't want to leave. Sometimes I'm asked if it is already possible to go swimming at Easter. Funny question! If you've survived swimming in the North Sea in summer, you can very well swim in Sardinia at Easter, probably the water is even warmer there then.
Divers have told me that Sardinia offers no great attractions for them, but surfers are extremely happy on the north coast between Sardinia and Corsica.
A word about the beaches: although more and more tourists come, it must be said that many beaches have neither toilets nor showers. If you're lucky you'll find a bar with some kind of loo - this side of beach tourism isn't the nicest.
If you belong to the fun generation and see life as a party, you should NOT go to Sardinia! To be sure, there are some discos, but this is ring-a-ring-o'-roses compared to what is going on in Rimini and other resorts on the Adriatic coast. Rimini means party and party means Rimini. But not only for the young ones: very early in the morning old age pensioners enter the beach and tango! I'd love to see that, it's very Felliniesque. (By the way, Fellini was from Rimini.)
During the last years a new kind of tourism has sprung up which attracts individuals who look for something genuine and out of the way. The beach season is concentrated on July and August, and that's not long enough. Jobs are scarce in Sardinia, and unemployment is a big problem. Many people still emigrate, but not all want to do so. Some young Sardinians have thought of new projects to attract tourists outside the peak season, and it seems that they've struck on something really good. More and more tourists come in spring and autumn to get to know the interior. You can explore caves, climb moun
tains, go on hiking tours on horseback or on foot. But if you can't read a compass, beware! The interior is really wild, no footpaths there like you know from home! You can follow the paths made by the shepherds and their sheep if you find them, if not, then you're on your own. You can study the Mediterranean flora and fauna, meet wild boar and wild sheep. Many Sardinians remember a Scotsman who used to come and study a special kind of lizard only to be found there.
I'd prefer spring to autumn, because then the vegetation is still fresh and green, in autumn the dominant colours are yellow and brown, everything is dry or burnt. Sardinia has more and more regions which are turning into steppe, during the last two years it has hardly rained, the reservoirs are nearly empty, and water is rationed even during the winter, that means there is no water from late afternoon up to the following morning! People can only get along with the help of water containers on the roofs of their houses which are filled during the hours when the water is running.
Do tourists have to take a shower three times a day? Must the jet set have golf courses? Then there are the horrible forest fires, every summer, raging for days. Some, very few, are caused by the proverbial cigarette butt thrown out of a car, more by acts of vendetta among the shepherds, maybe even more by land speculators. The idea to pay a reward for each fire which has been detected and is reported has certainly not helped to reduce the number, on the contrary!
If you're interested in history, you can study the culture of the 'nuraghi', conical buildings, whose function hasn't been cleared up yet, then there are giants' tombs, houses of fairies and dolmen, all belonging to the bronze age. Don't miss the Archeological Museum in Cagliari!
What you won't find is the refined urban culture mainland Italy is famous for, no Gothic Siena,
no Renaissance Florence, no baroque Rome in Sardinia. Tourists don't go to Sardinia to admire architecture.
WHAT ARE THE SARDINIANS LIKE?
Everything is relative. Compared to your and my countryfolks they are full of temperament, compared to the continental Italians they're quiet and reserved. Some women might like this, others might feel disappointed. They should go to Sicily where they can be sure to attract attention! Geographically speaking the Sardinians belong to the 'meridionali' (Southerners), but they are never subsumed, always referred to what they are: 'Sardinians'. If you know Italian you'll be able to understand them well, because their pronunciation is very clear, if they speak a Sardinian dialect, not even the continentals can understand them, philologists see the three main dialects as separate languages.
The Sardinians are very hospitable and it can happen that a tourist is invited in a bar by someone they've just met. Here comes an important piece of information: there is no law which forbids tourists to invite the locals as well!!
WHAT DO WE TAKE HOME?
The best and most expensive souvenir shops are called I.S.O.L.A, they can be found only in the cities, however. The village with the most souvenir shops, cheaper ones, is Dorgali on the east coast. There are also villages in which you can buy carpets directly from the loom, one is Ulassai, where you might go anyway, because there's one of the two big stalactite caves. The carpets I like best come from Isili, which you can visit when you go to Barumini to see the great nuraghe complex. the weaving mill (too big a word for the room with the looms) is beside the church.
And wine, of course! Poor you, if you come by plane! The most famous quality is called 'cannonau', more red wine than white is produced. The wine cellars are called 'cantina', they sell
open wine, too. People go there with plastic (!) containers and fill in the wine with the help of a pump, just like at a filling station. The wine is so good and strong, it can stand that treatment. (Now you know the REAL reason why Germans go to Sardinia by CAR!) Another speciality is bitter honey, 'miele amaro', which is sold in supermarkets.
In 1938 Grazia Deledda from the town of Nuoro received the Nobel Prize for literature, I can't find out if her novels have been translated into English, please check that for yourselves. The same for Gavino Ledda, a shepherd boy from the north of Sardinia, now a professor for linguistics in Sassari, who wrote a fictitious autobiography, the Italian title is 'Padre Padrone' (a very highly acclaimed film was made after the book). Don't read D. H. Lawrence's travel diary, of which I stole the title. It's extremely silly and can be appreciated only by hard core Lawrence fans. Just one example: he went to Sardinia at the beginning of January (!) and then repeatedly complained about the cold!
And then there is Michael Dibdin who wrote a series of thrillers set in different regions of Italy. The one which is set in Sardinia is called 'Vendetta', I recommend it highly. This book is now on offer at psbooks, Jill Murphy wrote so enthusiastically about. You can find my op about Dibdin just under this one.
Have I forgotten anything? If so, just ask me, I'll answer if I can.
Adiosu e a si biri! Adieu and good bye!
Sardinia is a fairly vast Island, something I didn't realise when I went there, it has a huge variety to please all tastes, there are the AMAZING & GLORIOUS views which are breathtaking the ride from Bosa to Alghero is not to be missed. There are the nuraghe which are ancient Iron Age building which are of a really distinctive shape, and are to be seen in many remote areas of Sardinia. Cagliari is a great city, quiet picturesque with lots to see and do, the amphitheatre was very interesting, also the Botanic gardens we missed. I found the Island Cheap, the hostel we stayed in in Alghero, Fertilia, was a fiver a night, the hotelsin Cagliari, Macomer and Bosa only £10. Bosa is fabulous, although the marina smells. There's always a downside though, beware the MOSQUITOES, we went in November but they were still about!!
I went to Sardinia in September because I had heard that the island was one of the most picturesque in the Mediterranean, and Ryan Air were offering return flights from £29! I was not disappointed with either of these reasons. Flying to Alghero in the North West of the island, I was greeted by beautiful weather, and a lovely city split into modern and old. Accomodation at this time of the year was pretty good, the food was gorgeous, and the beaches were lovely - even the one that skirts Alghero. I would agree with the earlier review of Sardinia being a little boring, but if it is a holiday of beaches, food, scenery and relaxation you are after, I would highly recommend this little known Mediterranean island.
Some people always get Sardinia and Sicily mixed up but I'll give you a clue...Sardinia's the one with beautiful beaches and lots of sheep (like Wales!) while Sicily's the one you always see in Mafia movies :) I think Sardinia is a really nice place to go on holiday: lots of things to do especially in the summer and many places where to relax if you're looking for that kind of holiday. It's a sort of paradise, the north coast in particularly but I wouldn't suggest you to go there if you're skint. Everything's really expensive in the Costa Smeralda (north/east coast), just think that loads of VIPs (like Madonna, Hakkinen just to mention some names) always spend some time there during the summer. The rest of the island is pretty cheap compared to Britain. Not to miss the south/east coast, really nice sea & beaches, good night life at very cheap prices. But don't go there if you don't like the Germans, cos there are reaaally loads of them! About the biggest cities, Cagliari is not to miss!
"Sardinia (Italian: Sardegna; Sardinian: Sardigna or Sardinna) is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily). The area of Sardinia is 9,300 sq. miles. The island lies between Italy, Spain, and Tunisia, south of Corsica; it is one of the autonomous regions with special statute under the Italian Constitution."